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Kjellin OKs tower but may lack authority

Staff writer

Marion’s city administrator attempted Monday to single-handedly end squabbling over a new radio tower, but other city officials are not sure the matter has been settled.

County officials celebrated the victory administrator Doug Kjellin handed to them by approving the tower, but Marion’s mayor said Kjellin still needs to bring the action before Marion City Council

Another city council member said Kjellin should have brought the decision before the council.

And a member of the city Planning Commission cites state statutes that Kjellin did not have the authority to make that decision.

Kjellin sent a letter to Marion County Commission saying he would make an administrative decision to grant an amendment to a conditional use permit, approved Feb. 6 for the jail. This will allow the county to construct a 92-foot communications tower next to the newly constructed jail.

The amendment, Ruth Herbel said, should have been presented to the Planning Commission for a vote before it was passed.

Mayor Mary Olson said she had spoken to Kjellin on Friday and he presented her with two options regarding the tower: the amendment or bringing the issue back before the Planning Commission

She told Kjellin to pick the appropriate course of action based on the consulting of David Yearout from Junction City and City Attorney Susan Robson, who is also the County Attorney. Yearout has been a longtime zoning consultant with the county, and has consulted with the city, Planning and Zoning Board Member Margo Yates said. But, Monday, Olson said the administrative decision will not be official until brought before the City Council for a vote July 23.

“He’s going to have to prove to me that this is an administrative decision,” Olson said. “He has to come before us. I feel I’m giving a lot of authority to our administrator to do this.”

If the Kjellin decision was unofficial, that status was not conveyed to the county commission.

“I am making an Administrative Decision to amend the Conditional Use Permit to recognize the communication tower as an accessory structure to the County Jail building,” Kjellin said in the letter.

The commission thanked Kjellin for expediting the process. Waiting for the tower to go through either the Zoning Appeals or the Planning Commission may have taken months. After a 30-day appeal process ends on Aug. 15, the county can break ground on a tower and is then back on schedule is to move operations to a completed new jail, commissioners said.

“I’m fine with it,” Chairman Dan Holub said. “We’re not circumventing anything.”

However, Marion Planning Commission member Ruth Herbel thought Kjellin was circumventing plenty. She said that Kjellin did not have the authority to make an administrative decision.

The matter should have been taken before the appropriate commission, she said and she cites a Kansas planning and zoning statute that states any zoning amendment must be brought before the appropriate commission.

“They’re doing this all under the table,” Herbel said. “The (planning) board is not aware of anything. They did not send us any notification that they were working on this.”

Part of the reason Kjellin chose the route of an administrative decision is that the planning and zoning board was likely to decline the conditional use permit to the county, Herbel said. Herbel said the tower would not meet city regulations because of its height.

“In my opinion, they need to look at other alternatives,” she said. “They can put the tower at the county shop.”

Council member Jerry Kline said he was not sure Kjellin had the authority to make the executive decision and said he would have preferred the matter brought before the council. Council member Todd Heitschmidt was in favor of the decision because a variance needed to be granted.

“We have to get along,” Heitschmidt said. “We need to work with them to make things good for the city and the county.”

Heitschmidt brought up the city and county negotiations for construction for Fourth and Williams streets next to the jail. Herbel said Kjellin might have made the executive decision to bolster city and county relations.

“Let’s hurry up and get this done and get money for the streets,” Herbel said.

Council member Chris Meierhoff declined to comment on the administrative decision and said he had not received the letter that was sent to the county. Council member Jerry Dieter could not be reached for comment.

The commission told Emergency Management Director Dan D’Albini to research the project and bring back the cost and timelines from TBS Communications Inc. In a previous meeting, D’Albini said the tower would cost $41,651.

Last modified July 18, 2012

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